Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Née (born as) Canberra, 26 January 2012

Née (born as) is a conversation project which invites you to tell the stories of your names; the names of your family; the names you have left behind; the names you have embraced. We invite you join us in stitching your name/s on to a piece of fabric, while you share your story. Using meaninful remannats of fabric; an old worn out t-shirt, some left over fabric from a school uniform, the tie you wore to your wedding, the stitched names will join a fabric ‘wall’, inscribed as a memorial to lost names. The wall will be added to by others as the project moves through different communities.  

The first iteration of Née (born as) was held on January 26, in my shed, with people from my community; neighbours, old friends, new friends, workmates, family.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Teman Gambar does the Big Draw

An Indonesian – Australian collaborative drawing project
Teman gambar’ means ‘drawing friend’. Based on the pen-pal experience many adults around the world remember from childhood, Asialink resident Elly Kent and Tlatah Bocah are collaborating to implement a creative exchange. This exchange aims to connect children who in Indonesia and children in Australian primary schools. Our original exchange focussed on children who were evacuated during the devastating eruptions of Mt Merapi in late 2010;  it was a wonderful way for Australian children to show support and care for their Teman Gambar. Since then so many people in Australia and Indonesia have been interested in participating, that our Mt Merapi team is now headquarters for a program that stretches across Java. In Australia, over 500 children have participated, and more are still joining.
In 2011, Teman Gambar decided to join the Big Draw.  We put the call out to schools involved in the Teman Gambar project, and two dedicated teachers of Indonesian language in four Australian schools expressed interest. In Indonesia, four primary schools on the slopes of Mt Merapi also joined:
Tully State School, Queensland, Australia

Cardwell State School, Queensland, Australia

Mission Beach State School, Queensland, Australia

Geelong Baptist College, Victoria, Australia

SDK Perontakan (Perontakan Catholic Primary School), Sumber, Central Java, Indonesia

SDK Kanisius (Kanisius Catholic Primary School), Sumber, Central Java, Indonesia

SDN Sumber (Sumber State Primary School), Sumber, Central Java, Indonesia

SDN Keningar (Keningar State Primary School), Sumber, Central Java, Indonesia

In late October, schools in Australia began creating their collaborative drawings. Each school worked together to describe their home town, school and favourite activites on drawings between 3 and 7 metres long. On these initial drawings, students drew their schools, sports, histories, homes and neighbourhoods. Teachers Sue Foley (Queensland schools) and Dewi Claridge (Victorian school) posted the drawings to Teman Gambar founder Elly Kent in Canberra. In  November 2011, Elly travelled to Central Java and delivered the drawings to the four Indonesian schools.  Teman Gambar co-founder Gunawan Julianto worked together to explain the drawings and the project to students at the four Mt Merapi schools;

Stage 1: Australian school students begin the first drawings which are sent to Indonesian schools.

Stage 2:Indonesian school students complete the drawings begun by the Australian students.

Stage 3: Indonesian students begin the second round of drawings, which are sent in return to Australian schools.

Stage 4: Australian students complete the drawings they have received from Indonesian students.

Stage 5: The story continues……

As the project unfolded, teachers and facilitators kept in touch via email and the dedicated Teman Gambar Facebook Group.

In Indonesia, the students of the Mt Merapi Primary Schools were thrilled and fascinated by the drawings from their Australian peers. An avalanche of questions followed each introduction of the drawings. Where is Tully? What kind of animal is that? What is that big green circle?
Students at Kanisius looking at the drawing from Mission Beach.

 Why is their a giant boot in the drawing? What kind of plants do they grow in Queensland?
Unrolling drawing from Tully students  with students at Perontakan.

What are the different flags for?

Gunawan with the drawing from Geelong Baptist College at Keningar Primary School.

In a short time, Elly and Gunawan helped the students explore Australian culture. Then the reciprocal drawing began!

 Perontakan students get drawing!

Detail from Perontakan….

Detail from Kanisius….
Detail from Sumber….

Detail from Keningar….

As you can see, kids in both countries used this as an excellent opportunity to learn more about their “drawing friends – teman gambar” in their neighbouring country, and to share their own culture and lanuguage with their friends…

SD Keningar was the last stop on out Big Draw tour. As the school finished up classes for the day the heavy rainy-season clouds began to build. Before long, rain was falling on the fertile crops of Mt Merapi, the crops that sustain the livelihoods of her families. Gunawan, myself and my family and the students were hanging out waiting for the rain to ease before heading home. The Australian Rules football field and ball illustrated on the enormous painting/drawing from Geelong Baptist College had been intriguing for the students. It just so happened that my husband, a footy player himself, had his football with him. Rain is part of the game! So our parting photographs with the kids from Keningar, the last school to the top of Mt Merapi’s western slope, were in fact those of Shane (footy player) and Adi (their son) teaching two young fellows from Keningar to fly for the red ball. An all-round cultural experience….
That’s the ball in the top middle! Those Keningar boys were a great mark….

Elly Kent and Gunawan Julianto

Friday, 20 January 2012

The elephant in the room....

Its taken me some time to work up the courage to write this, for reasons which will soon become apparent. Seeing as no-one is following this blog, I think I'm fairly safe to proceed without fear of the ruckus that might be caused by someone with a higher profile.
I left an artists talk at Campbelltown Arts Centre the other day in a fury. Why? Partly because the continuous assertion that the audience was a part of an amorphous "you people" who had stolen a continent and created a  beuracratic social welfare system was wearing thin. More unpleasant though, was the impossibility of raising any critique of thisor any other assertion. Richard Bell, the artist (sorry, that should be 'art star') in question, responded to one elderly woman's polite and pertinent question, and her relating the experiences of her Aboriginal granddaughter, with an explosion: "What the fuck are you talking about, woman?" I wish I had noted the surname of Madeline, the film maker also on the panel, who actually created the documentary film which was part of Bell's contribution to the Edge of Elsewhere exhibition. (Which he says he chose to 'point to his activism'). Madeline made some worthwhile and disturbing points about the standard of living and access to dental care still experienced by Aboriginal people. She might have had a lot more to say and I think it would have been enlightening for we in the audience to hear it. It is easy to be complacent and insulated from the reality of life for the majority of Australia's first people.
But we were busy listening to Richard Bell tell us how he can name his family and that is all he need do to prove his Aboriginality. He seems to have forgotten all those Aboriginal people who lost their family history when they were taken from their mothers.
It hardly seems neccessary, or helpful, to assert that I am not a racist. It's a cliche usually followed by a racist comment. But you know, when I listen to the lyrics of Archie Roach or Kev Carmody I feel moved; I feel responsible, not for the wrongs of the past and present, but for the creation of a better future. Their art makes me want to make a difference.
I try to perpetuate this awareness through my work and in my children - the truths of the theft of land, culture, language and family. The complexity of generations of trauma. Our part in the present and future. This is a legacy passed to me by father, whose school years were captained by the Dodson brothers, Mick and Patrick: their election based not on a compensatory gesture, but on their notable leadership skills and the genuine affection of their fellow students.
But when I listened to Richard Bell I felt shunned, it all seemed too fraught, too 'hot' to touch.
In my children's school I recently joined the Reconciliation Action Plan Committee', on request of the executive teacher who, incidentally, is Aboriginal.
That teacher seems to have no problem with my being white, or whatever I am: not Aboriginal. Richard Bell does. Richard Bell had a problem with every not-Aboriginal in the audience that day. "You People Got a Continent For Free" he said to us, we of Vietnamese, Maori, Cambodian, Irish, Samoan, Thai, English, Cornish, Indian, Chinese, Korean, Welsh and every other descent. We who were born here and we who came here to escape prejudice and repression. It sounded like a line from his very valuable, highly sought after, paintings. But without (what I always assumed to be) irony. There was a racist in the room that day. But no-one dared say who it was.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

What is art?

This is art: an expression of suppressed desire, a critique of a complacent society, hope for the future in spite of all evidence to the contrary. Art is a question you ask yourself.
Check out this link to see the art of a man who has been a refugee for 30 years, the last two in detention in Australia:  http://agora-dialogue.com/?p=34113